(Post)feminist paradoxes: the sensibilities of gender representation in Disney's Frozen

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Author: Maja Rudloff
Date: Nov. 2016
Publisher: The University of Western Australia, Women's Studies
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 7,809 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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Disney's 2013 animated movie Frozen has been hugely popular with critics due to its perceived promotion of feminist ideals. In this article, I investigate this claim of the feminist ideals portrayed in Frozen, from the perspective of visual and cultural representation, situating my analysis within the context of feminist and postfeminist media studies. Focusing on the signs and cultural codes used to create meanings associated with the movie's main female and male characters, the article is structured around four themes: signs of gender difference, heteronormative romance and female agency, empowerment and sexualisation, and disparities in male/female representations and role models. Emphasising the conflicts and interactions between feminist and postfeminist messages, the analyses reveal that on the surface Frozen promotes a narrative of feminist ideals of equality, empowerment and female agency, but conflates them with postfeminist ideals of appearance, self-discipline and strongly gender stereotyped depictions with regard to how the characters look and act. Far from being 'truly feminist', it is concluded that despite popular sentiment to the contrary, Disney still has a long way to go towards promoting egalitarian and diverse representations of gender.

Introduction

It doesn't matter whether it comes by cable, telephone lines, computer or satellite. Everyone's going to have to deal with Disney. (Disney Chief Executive Officer Michael Eisner, cited in Wasco 2001, 222)

Pictures, photographs, films, etc. are addressed to us as their viewers and work upon us by means of winning our identification with those versions of masculinity and femininity which are represented to us. It is a process of constantly binding us into a particular--but always unstable--regime of sexual difference. (Pollock 1988, 35)

Fulfilling the prophecy of former Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner (1984-2005), Disney products have become an influential, if not unavoidable part of most western children's lives. Frozen, the most recent addition to Disney's hugely popular and profitable line of princess feature films, is one of its biggest successes. Ranked as the highest-grossing animated film to date, Frozen has won several prizes and been heralded for its beautiful animation, audio-visual effects and catchy song lyrics (IMDb 2016). The movie and its characters are among the most beloved in Disney princess movies but are also, from the perspective of gender, the least criticised.

When Disney relaunched its princess features with such movies as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Aladdin (1992)--and thus returned to its trademark visualisations of European fairy tales in feature-length animations, such as Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950) and Sleeping Beauty (1959)--the company initially claimed that, in these new features, it sought to break away from age-old stereotypes of passive, submissive female characters and to reflect more modern, contemporary, agentic and realistic role models for young viewers (Culhane 1992, 10; Thomas 1997, 182). However, these 'updated' movies have received significant criticism for their archetypal, conservative, patriarchal, sexist and even racist representations of gender and ethnicity, featuring love-hungry princesses with no real control over their destinies (Bell, Haas and Sells 1995; Cummins 1995; England, Descartes and...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A485808814